One Night at the Villa Diodati…with Monsters!

It was a dark and stormy night…

No, really, it was! That wasn’t just a Bulwer-Lytton/Snoopy reference. I am referring to that tempestuous night in June of 1816 that inspired Mary Shelley to  invent one of the most celebrated monsters in all of horror fiction. As we continue to celebrate both this year’s release of my new novel FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN and the 200th anniversary of the conception of Shelley’s original FRANKENSTEIN, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit that pivotal event in Gothic literature, which many scholars believe also spawned the nineteenth century’s other iconic monster character, Dracula.

Simple necessity occasioned this unlikely but serendipitous event: Not technically married yet due to the inconvenient existence of Percy’s first wife Harriet, Percy and Mary Shelley were up to their cerebral brows in debt, and Percy was persona non grata with his not-yet-father-in-law, William Godwin. With only Percy’s modest income for subsistence, the couple believed they could live more cheaply on the Continent. Mary’s half-sister Claire Claremont was one of the randy Lord Byron’s many groupies, and she convinced the Shelleys to rent the Maison Chapuis, a small villa on the shores of Lake Geneva near the one where his lordship was summering with his fawning sidekick, Dr. John Polidori. Percy and Byron, being mutual admirers of one another’s poetry and of a similar egotistic Romantic temperament, got along famously, and Byron regularly hosted the Shelleys at the Villa Diodati, which you may see as it appears today in the photo accompanying this post. Percy and Mary Shelley are pictured on the left, Byron and Polidori on the right.

It was on one such visit in June of 1816 that a frightful downpour began, and Byron invited the Shelleys to stay at Diodati so they wouldn’t have to venture back to their own villa during the storm. The thunder and lightning excited their morbid imaginations, and since they were cooped up anyway, they took turns creeping each other out by reading outre works of Coleridge and others. Byron puckishly proposed a friendly competition in which they should all write their own ghost stories.

Of the four participants, Shelley and Byron had soon produced abortive fragments of ghostly narratives. Polidori, who had pretentions of being a writer but little talent, even came up with a story. Only Mary seemed to suffer from writer’s block, unable to think of a good idea.

Then she had a nightmare. Evidently inspired by conversations that Percy, Byron, and Polidori had regarding the science of galvanism and how electricity could make the limbs of dead animals and humans twitch as if alive, Mary dreamt of a medical student who brings to life a horrible humanoid monster. Both the medical student and his nameless creation would come to be known by the eventual title of the story she wrote: Frankenstein.

Mary’s was not the only famous work inspired by this unique meeting of minds, however. Inspired by the mysterious main character of Byron’s “Fragment of a Novel,” Polidori  created his own charismatic antihero in “The Vampyre,” a popular novella that became the first modern fictional treatment of vampirism in the English language. Many critics believe Polidori’s work was a seminal influence on Bram Stoker when he first conceived of Dracula.

In honor of this momentous occasion in the history of monsterdom, I thought it would be amusing to recreate the legendary evening at the Villa Diodati in miniature. With the aid of my own lovely wife, Kelly Dunn, and a very special surprise guest writer, we propose to channel each of the celebrated Diodati literati to write four *new* Gothic tales for your enjoyment. You won’t want to miss these new stories, so follow this blog for every chilling installment!

While you’re waiting, you can get your Frankenstein fix by checking out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN on Amazon. Follow the link below!:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page

Thank you, and stay tuned!

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